We all know that leaders face many contradictory challenges: innovating vs continuously improving; having an analytical as well as a strategic mindset; being both reflective and certain; avoiding pitfalls while risking.
Understanding your capacity for dealing with such paradoxes and learning to use them effectively can help set you up for success as a leader – especially in times where greater flexibility and agility is needed to meet changing expectations and new business models.
I hope you can take a couple of minutes to reflect… How self-aware are you about your capacity as a Leader who works effectively with risk?
1. Let’s start with the competencies. These are the learned behaviours, knowledge and skills that are critical to success in a leadership role. When I reflect on leadership competencies, my mind goes to influencing effectively upwards, across and downwards; getting past the technical details to take a more strategic, enterprise-wide perspective; and being able to work effectively across organisational boundaries.
At different times, however, these competencies may be more or less important to success in a given role. Context matters and what works well in one organisation may not work well in another. A good Risk Leader will be someone who is able to read each unique situation and deploy the best from a range of professional competencies. Think about it... Where innovation is required strategic thinking, analytical skills and optimism must be dialled up. Where compliance is required, near enough is probably not going to be good enough!
2. Then there’s your critical experiences. These are the make-or-break situations that individuals need to have encountered and navigated successfully to be prepared for leadership roles. I’m a firm believer that an experience alone doesn’t prepare you for the future, the value of the experience is to be found through reflection. What you objectively learn from critical experiences is what differentiates great leaders from average ones.
You might have heard of the 70/20/10 rule, a research-based guideline for leadership development? It suggests that real-world experience is the best teacher and that three types of experience are important: challenging assignments (70%), developmental relationships (20%), and coursework and training (10%).
3. Personal qualities are those character traits and abilities that differentiate us from each other – key things like interpersonal skills, motivation, values, optimism/pessimism and ethics. Such fundamental abilities and personality traits are linked to longer-term growth potential and success. Being fundamental to who we are, means they are also more difficult to change and professionally develop.
Risk Leaders need to be savvy about people. This involves understanding and working well with a diverse range of people, demonstrating a healthy dose of humility and being able to read political and group dynamics. While Risk Leaders are often called on to challenge and push back, they also need to balance this with tact and diplomatic skill.
4. Don't ignore the Derailers! Ironically, some personal traits can undermine leadership success. Strengths that got you to a certain point in your career can get in the way as your role changes. These derailers tend to be activated in high-pressure situations and often not noticed until it is too late.
In my experience the significance of derailers increases with the level of leadership. For example, technical experts are promoted for their attention to detail and perfectionism but in a leadership role where big picture thinking and risk-taking are required, these strengths can now derail success by shutting down creativity in others.
Strengthening Risk Leadership
The best way for leaders to develop new skills and habits is to work on one thing at a time, and consistently, for several months, with a coach at your side. Trying to work on multiple development goals while attending to a demanding day job is a recipe for failure, leading to a quick loss of focus and motivation.
It is also critical for the leader to take ownership of their own development. Few of the capabilities detailed here can be learned solely in a training course. Instead, experience and relationships are the primary way that leaders learn, so being proactive ensures this exposure to diverse people and situations.
Enlist the support of others such as human resources, managers, mentors or coaches. Asking them to help plan how to close experience gaps perhaps by taking on portfolio assignments or special projects, through job rotation, and the like. It is also helpful to appoint an accountability coach—someone you trust, who checks in and challenges you on your progress, someone who provides you with a sounding board and cheers you on.
Risk Managers are technical experts. Technical experts deliver significant value. If, however, you've ever heard one say,
"Why can’t I be left alone in my office with my laptop to do what I have always done, to do what I have always been good at? Why do I need to have the people bit too?"
... then please, please, please don't set that amazing talent up to fail.
Call us first and we'll help you design a Professional Development Plan that will transition a technical expert into leadership.